WARRENSBURG – When eighth-graders at Warrensburg-Latham Middle School sat down to come up with fun activities to do with kindergartners, Clayton Taylor, 13, had an advantage.
His baby sister, Myleigh, 5, is in the class.
Junior high teacher Crystal Hoadley, who teaches science to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, has been doing The Kindess Project for a few years now. Middle school students, knowing that everyone is restless the last week or so before winter break, and that teachers appreciate any help they get, spend time on projects with elementary students.
“Sometimes we learn how to be kind,” Hoadley said. “Middle school is a challenging age. They're kind of still a child and they're also trying to be an adult. They're still working on manners. I started this about six years ago from a video I saw on YouTube. It's called 'Life Vest – One Day.'”
The video shows a chain of kindnesses. One person helps someone, and that person helps the next person, and so on down the line. She used that to show her students that kindness spreads and a small act of caring can make a person's whole day.
“We thought about ways we could do kind things for others at school and the kids talked about the most stressful times for teachers. And the kids said, probably right before break because nobody wants to do anything.”
It was the students' idea to go into the elementary school and do activities with the younger students. With the kindergartners, they ran a game like Pin the Tail on the Donkey, except because of the season it was “Hang the Star on the Tree.” The little ones were blindfolded and had to put a paper star on a paper tree on the wall. Other activities included coloring and cutting out paper snowflakes, and a technology game with an iPad.
One nice thing about Warrensburg-Latham, Hoadley said, is that the buildings are connected, making it simpler for older kids and younger ones to interact.
“They get to see all the smiles on the faces and they get to see they've done something really nice for somebody else,” Hoadley said. “Now they know how tiring teaching is,” she added with a chuckle, “because they're worn out afterwards.”
The focus comes as school districts across the country focus on kindness messages to combat bullying and the development of "soft skills" like compassion and respect.
The Warrensburg-Latham project also helps younger students get to know teachers they'll have later on, she said, and some of her current students remember seeing her and her students when they were the younger ones being visited by older ones.
The pre-break activities aren't the only ones older kids share with younger ones. In the spring, the older students build models of roller coasters, and show them to the younger students, who get to play with them. They also combine for Earth Day activities.
“I teach science, but I also want to instill values and have my kids understand how great it is to be nice to others.”
The kindergarten teacher, Stacey Young, said she's lucky to have a small class of 17, who know the routine and follow the rules, but it was still nice to turn them over to the middle school kids for a morning and let everyone have some fun.
Clayton said the middle school students enjoy spending time with the younger students.
“Me and my friend over there thought of (the star game) and it's just fun to play with the little kids,” Clayton said. “It's nice to see them have fun with us. It helps the teachers get a day off, because they put so much work into this job to help us all get smarter. It's nice to give them a break.”